Things that Leaders Say: Unintended Consequences
1. “What would we do if you get hit by a bus tomorrow?”
My manager here was trying to express his desire to mitigate the risk of losing me given my unique capabilities and contributions. But he actually made me feel like I didn’t matter. I started looking for my next opportunity. It wasn’t long before I left for an employer that I felt would sympathize with my family and me if I got hit by a bus! Making employees feel like they don’t matter could be one of the biggest mistakes a leader can make. And doing so with high potential employees can be most drastic. This statement above is still leaving a bad taste with me 19 years after I parted ways with this manager.
2. “Thanks for pointing out that your compensation doesn’t match your value and contribution here. I definitely agree. Let me look into it!”
I had brought up with our business unit leader that my pay was too low for my qualifications and performance levels. His response made me feel like I was being valued and appreciated. I ended up staying, made some of my best contributions, and followed that leader to his next job. And it was because of the trust he gained with his honesty and respect rather than the salary raise he offered me later.
3. “I am sad you’re leaving us but happy that you’re being pulled into an exciting opportunity rather than being pushed away by us!”
In this situation, I had submitted my resignation after accepting another exciting opportunity. This response from a leader that I looked up to was pretty inspirational. When I was ready for my next career move later, I reached out to my ex-employer and returned later for a much better opportunity under that same leader.
4. “Prepare a presentation to demonstrate to us your ability to complete your work on time.”
Rather than appreciating and leveraging my impact on people as a leader, my manager assumed I was spending too much time on the people management side of my job versus project deliverables. He didn’t ask about the status of my deliverables. This conversation basically drove me to prepare my resignation. I later was able to find a much more senior and influential leadership role with a company whose leadership made me feel respected and trusted.
The assuming leader could easily be the least effective leader. Making inaccurate assumptions based on what you see on the surface is a solid de-motivator of people. Staying curious and inquisitive would have been much more useful in this situation for working together on assessing and closing any performance gap. But assuming lack of delivery based on scattered observations is one of the quickest ways to disengage your employees and demotivate them. Ask yourself one question: to what extent are you successful in making your employees feel like you are partners in success versus a police-person and suspects?
5. “We have an important role for you to play in a new job,” in reference to a much more limited and limiting role
My manager mentioned this only when I said that I’d read between his lines that he was hiring my replacement. I was actually on the interviewing committee for another role and I had to guess that the intention was to replace me. Apparently, some of my colleagues had known about it while I didn’t. The interviewee himself knew about it. I could not trust my manager or his managers after this incident. Regardless of how suitable the role he described was for me, I didn’t feel safe anymore continuing to work for that company. So I started making plans for my next career move and resigned soon after.